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Israel-Palestine: Hundreds of thousands march for Gaza in London

Protesters in Britain decry government attempts to quell pro-Palestine speech, vow to march until Israel's bombardment of Gaza ends
People take part in a 'March For Palestine' in London on 21 October to 'demand an end to the war on Gaza' (AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of London for a second consecutive week to protest Israel's continued bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Marching in the rain and torrential wind, the demonstration began in Marble Arch, where protesters gathered before heading to Downing Street - the official residence of Britain's prime minister. 

While hundreds amassed in the courtyard of Marble Arch in central London holding Palestine flags and placards that called for "Sanctions on Israel" and an end to the bombing of Gaza, Barnaby Raine began the march a little earlier. 

"I couldn't get on the train from like three stops away because the platform was so packed. So we just started walking up the street for two miles, walking up to Marble Arch where it was packed with people chanting 'Free, Free Palestine'," said Raine, who lives in London. 

For Raine, this march is personal. He is Jewish and an outspoken advocate for the Palestine cause. Having marched for Palestine from a young age, Raine believes it is his duty as a Jew to protest for Palestine.

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"It's very much because I am Jewish that I am out here today. I'm here because when I see the language of 'human animals' and 'children of darkness' and 'the law of the jungle', I know that the Israeli state didn't invent racism. They're merely deploying the language of racism that was developed over two millennia in Europe to harass and persecute Jews," said Raine. 

"So my people were excluded and marginalised and eventually annihilated, and the same logic that motivated tsarist hatred and then colonialism all over the world is the same logic used by the Israeli state to paint Palestinians as savages to justify bombing Gaza." 

'A genocide is being carried out in my name... and I'm here to say absolutely not'

- Esther Jones, Jewish American in London

Organised by Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other groups, pro-Palestine marchers could be seen waving Palestine flags as they moved through Piccadilly Circus, one of London's main iconic sites.

Organisers said at least 300,000 people marched on Saturday, dubbing the march the biggest pro-Palestine march in Europe in 20 years. Police put the figure at about 100,000 people.

While marchers headed down Park Lane, Aamira and her mum stood to the side, serving traditional Arab tea to protesters in little polystyrene cups as marchers bopped their heads to the song Dammi Falastini blasting from the balcony of a flat above them.

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Refusing donations from people taking the cups of tea, Aamira said the pictures coming out of Gaza made her come out to protest in London.

"It's my first protest. I keep seeing the videos on social media and I keep thinking, how can we continue with our daily lives?" Aamira told Middle East Eye. 

Amira handed out cups of tea to protestors in London during the pro-Palestine March (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Amira handed out cups of tea to protesters in London during the pro-Palestine march (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Organisers said that people from across the UK, including Birmingham and Leeds, had come on buses for the protest. 

More than 1,000 police were deployed ahead of the march, with the Metropolitan Police warning that anyone showing support for Hamas, a group proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK, or deviating from the protest route could face arrest.

The Met also added that the chant "Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea" would not be deemed illegal in a protest setting. But protesters who use this chant outside a synagogue or Jewish school or directly at a Jewish person or group intended to intimidate would be deemed unlawful. 

Esther Jones is an American national who works as a consultant in London and has family in Israel. 

Holding a sign that reads "Jews against Genocide", Jones said that from a young age, Jews are often asked, "What would you do if you were there during the Holocaust?"

"And to be honest this is why I am here. Me being here today is because a genocide is being carried out in my name, in the name of the Jewish people, and I'm here to say absolutely not," said Jones. 

Esther Jones holding a sign labelled “Jews against genocide” during the pro-Palestine March (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Esther Jones holding a sign labelled “Jews against genocide” during the pro-Palestine march (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

When asked how her family in the US and Israel reacted to her marching today in London, Jones said: "I'd rather my family members not talk to me and be here today than choose silence to maintain relationships with people who are okay with what's happening."

Walking down Green Park, the rain intensified, but marchers continued to head towards Downing Street. Parents who brought their children carried them on their shoulders and covered themselves with jackets against the rain.

Thousands of marchers braved the rain and torrential weather to March for Palestine in central London (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Thousands of marchers braved the rain and torrential weather to march for Palestine in central London (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Some Muslim men and women prayed their afternoon prayers on side streets as marchers guarded them against potential reprisals in light of reports of growing Islamophobia and antisemitism since Hamas launched its assault into southern Israel and Israel's began its intense bombardment of Gaza. 

'A genocide is happening'

For the last two weeks, Israel has been bombing the densely populated Gaza Strip, when Palestinian fighters launched a surprise attack in which around 1,400 Israelis were killed and hundreds of others were taken captive. 

In two weeks, the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 4,385 Palestinians, including 1,756 children.

Amid the crowds, six men dressed in lycra from head to toe slowly pushed their bikes. Shams, who leads the HK Cycle Club, has fundraised thousands of pounds for Gaza. 

"We've actually raised money for a school bus to a local school in Gaza and funds for hospitals in Gaza with solar panels," said Shams. 

"But to see what has happened in the last few weeks has been devastating. A genocide is happening." 

Earlier on Saturday, Egyptian authorities confirmed that a small supply of medical equipment and canned food items entered Gaza from Egypt. 

Crowds gathered in Downing Street to protest for Palestine (MEE/Areeb ULLAH)
Crowds gathered in Downing Street to protest for Palestine (MEE/Areeb ULLAH)

But despite the growing humanitarian crisis, Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, said that no fuel would enter Gaza, as hospitals run out of petrol and diesel to fuel their generators. 

Ismail Patel, who heads the Friends of Al-Aqsa group and helped organise Saturday's march, said the "climate surrounding Palestine is shifting".

"Communities from across the UK have come together to send a clear message to the British government: the era of complicity in British war crimes must end," Patel said. 

"As we stand united in our thousands on the streets of London, this marks a watershed moment, a turning point in the history of British solidarity with Palestine."

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